I am sure that at one time or another we have all heard the saying “I’ll drink to that.” In fact for many college students the term seems to be a rite of passage. The idea of “drink, drink, drink until you can drink no more” is often the norm. In some cases, the practice of college students forcing fellow co-eds to “drink till they drop” has become all too commonplace. The death of Cornell University student George Desdunes, a 19-year-old Haitian immigrant student, in February has once again brought the issue out of college life and excessive alcohol consumption to the forefront of debate.
His mother, Maria Lourdes Andre, understandably filled with anger and grief, has filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon. The fraternity has had its charter revoked by the university. By all accounts, Desdunes, a pre-med major, had a fabulously promising future. Unfortunately, it was cut short by a senseless act of immaturity combined with alcohol.
This tragic story aside, the fact is that binge drinking causes more than 79,000 deaths in the United States every year according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Binge drinking is defined as more than four standard drinks for a man and three drinks for a woman on one single occasion. These numbers alone would qualify a large percentage of college students as binge drinkers. This is a problem that often leads to other vices on college campuses. For example, a study from the Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Violence Prevention produced the following results about the dangers of excessive drinking and consumption:
Alcohol is estimated to be involved with:
- 27 percent of college dropouts
- 33 percent of academic failures among college students
- 58 percent of violent behaviors on college campuses
- 59 percent of unsafe sexual practices among undergraduate students
- 63 percent of acquaintance rapes among college co-eds
Such confrontations do take place between college students themselves and beyond. At a number of campuses in all regions of the nation –- South, Midwest, Northeast, New England the Pacific Coast, violent confrontations have taken place between campus police and students. Such grim statistics have caused increasing alarm among many academics.
The fact is that campus drinking is certainly nothing new. Since the early 20th century, many campuses have been bastions of alcohol and parties. This was particularly the case at all-male schools. As the 20th century progressed, a number of female students began to drink for social acceptance. However, over time drinking rituals became more unhinged and irresponsible.
Upon hearing of the Desdunes incident, memories of my undergraduate college days gripped me as I remembered vivid flashbacks of paramedics rushing into dormitories on weekends taking students who were consumed out of their minds with alcohol to the hospital. Such a spectacle was frightening to witness. During my freshman and sophomore years I witnessed a number of students who had their lives turned upside down because of alcohol. It was a sad state of affairs for everyone involved.
Now decades later as a professor, I have witnessed students coming to class visibly intoxicated. Not many, however, one drunken student wandering around on campus is one too many. Several years ago, I had a student come to my office during office hours so drunk that I asked him to leave and told him not to ever meet with me again until he had enough respect to visit with me when he was sober. The alcohol was literally reeking from his breath. During this same time period, an older colleague, now retired, told me a story of when he was junior faculty in the mid-1970s a group of intoxicated students with long hair confronted him and proceeded to walk closely behind him hurling obscenities late one night as he left campus.
Underage drinking on college campuses has become such a dilemma that increasing pressure has been put on college presidents, administrators, local merchants and the American public in general to solve the problem. One thing is for certain, and that is too many college students are allowing alcohol to garner considerable control over their lives. The impact that results is often negative. Individuals who become alcoholics early in life often end up sacrificing or surrendering their physical and mental well being along with future goals by default. A person’s motivation and livelihood are terrible things to waste.